Is there an ethical problem with dog participation in sport?

Dog sport is a rapidly expanding field, with a Wikipedia page listing over 20 distinct sports for dogs alone, including activities like dog surfing, scootering, rally obedience and Jack Russell hurdle racing.

Dogs have partaken in sports for centuries with activities like dogsledding – or even millenniums if hunting is considered a sport; however, these recent incarnations are sports which involve dogs participating in pre-existing human activities.

When we solicit dogs to play games for our entertainment outside of our own human endeavours, how do we know whether or not it is ethical?

We make dogs play games outside of the institution of sport all the time. Owners casually play fetch with their dogs and many professional dogs, from guide dogs to police dogs, are trained with a number of physical games like finding hidden objects by scent.

It may seem an easy step from training dogs in these ways or playing with dogs, to including them in sport, but some animal ethicists often draw the line between ethical and unethical at the point when the use of an animal moves from sustenance to entertainment.

For example, while eating meat might seem normal and hunting game might be considered responsible, wearing fur coats or fox hunting is often frowned upon. The difference between killing for necessity and killing for sport is much more severe than the difference between necessary and unnecessary games, but the logic is similar.

Of course, in some instances the sport itself does involve the death of a dog, in which case it seems overwhelmingly unethical. Dog fighting, for example, is an activity with its roots solely in human entertainment, distinct from the kind of play fighting that domesticated dogs engage in on their own.

It involves high levels of stress for all dogs taking part, and death for some. Society has widespread condemnation for dog fighting, and I think the reasons are sound. There is a concept in dog sport called ‘base condition in voluntary play’, which examines the techniques used to initiate or coerce the sporting activity.

Proponents of this concept argue that we can sense, or even scientifically detect, signs of fear in dogs, and that if the dogs exhibit signs of fear while the activity is being initiated then they should not continue to participate in the sport.

Activities that fit this criteria, which are arguably simply more organised forms of play in which the dogs engage on their own, are ethical, whereas dog surfing, which puts a dog in a situation that they would never naturally be in, would need to be more closely examined.

The question of dogs in more traditional sport with their owner is a separate issue entirely: studies show that when there is a close bond between a dog and their owner they will often imitate each other’s emotional coping mechanisms and even copy each other’s behaviours.

In my backyard, many a game of football has been eagerly invaded by my golden retriever who clearly wants to be included and understands more complicated concepts like ‘constant possession’ but has yet to grasp simpler ones like ‘goals’.

Other sports have less clear indications of consent, and can’t be joined without human intervention, such as paragliding or surfing, both sports which dogs have accompanied owners on. Should owners be allowed to bring their best friend along and, if so, is it a question of sport, or one specific to the very nature of dog-human relationships?


Image courtesy of Emily Hall

By Emily Hall

As a writer, Emily contributes to news, features, comment, science & technology, lifestyle, tv & radio, culture and sport. This native Seattlite is a cake pop enthusiast who can regularly be found trying to make eye-contact with stranger’s dogs on the streets of Edinburgh.

21 replies on “Is there an ethical problem with dog participation in sport?”

Children love to run but encouraging a group of them to race at breakneck speeds on a dangerous track would be criminal, greyhound racing is no different, you talk of ethics, try watching some of the videos on Greyt Exploitatins, start with Holycross Bride who was raced at Towcester last month, listen to her screaming in pain when she falls and see if you still think it ethical, watch Robbies Hawk fall also at Towcester in January, both dogs less than two years old, both now dead, what do you consider ethical about that?

Why have you removed my comment? It wasn’t impolite, I was simply giving you my view on the ethics of Greyhound Racing.

Why have you removed my comment too??? If you cannot listen to the truth go put your heads back up your backsides again and ignore animal cruelty

Please visit a few greyhound rescue organisations and see for yourself how ethical racing is. It is unquestionably cruel, with dogs suffering some terrible injuries and not very often given proper veterinary care.

Why have you removed my comment? Why bother posing a question if you if you are not prepared to listen to all points of view? Very narrow minded. The fact is that greyhound racing is cruel and unethical. You bet they die!

Hi, at the moment we’re trying to purge all old comments on the site and go over to a new form of commenting where authors have to use ‘real’ signup info. We keep getting inflamatory comments from anonymous accounts and it’s step to stop that. Our FB page is always open to all comments though.

These are all recent comments within the last 3 days. They are not old comments, simply ones that point out the very badly researched item posted here on 1st March 2017. Also, email addressees had to be verified before a comment was allowed to be posted. How can they be anonymous? On every comment on this item the posters have given a name. We are ‘real’ people. None of the comments were inflammatory, simply giving a different view to the one in the item. Maybe in your world that is inflammatory? Seems more like sour grapes on the editors part because she does not like criticism.

The Greyhound industry is self regulated and opaque. It can only function on huge numbers of Greyhounds racing until the point of injury and disposal. They are treated like toys, kept in small cages for 95% of their racing employment, (for which they are not rewarded or awarded health care.) . The production of Greyhounds is easy and cheap, puppies are trashed if not deemed suitable to train . Training the puppies is a brutal affair.
The only people winning are the owners and betting industry. The betting industry is meant to volunteer funds for Greyhound welfare. Few bother and the measly funds scraped are spent on car parks etc..the industry depends on the public to rehome (rescue) Greyhounds at their own expense and the numbers are increasing every day. All this is encouraged by the government as they receive tax although they would wish for a little better publicity and feel the GBGB can deliver data on all missing ,rehomed, and killed dogs by 2018 to DEFRA .

I am not sure why some comments have been deleted however it is an irrefutable fact that Greyhound racing is cruel and unethical. There is no correlation between behaviour and being forced to race in all weathers, often while carrying untreated injuries

Hi, at the moment we’re trying to purge all old comments on the site and go over to a new form of commenting where authors have to use ‘real’ signup info. We keep getting inflamatory comments from anonymous accounts and it’s step to stop that. Our FB page is always open to all comments though.

Why have you removed my comments regarding greyhound racing? If you are prepared to write articles where you have not done sufficient research then you should be prepared to take comments from those of those of us who do know. I will therefore repeat what I had originally wrote, do you think it is ethical to race dogs? do you think it is ethical to have them take a corner to quickly, break their legs and listen to them scream, do you think it is ethical that they should not have the proper vets care, or that they should be kept in dreadful conditions? Perhaps you think it also ethical yo have them sent to China to race under dreadful conditions until one day they are killed.
Or perhaps you think it ethical that they are dumped on a heap when they just cant race any more.
If you are not prepared to take criticism then don’t write about a subject you clearly know nothing about and as the saying goes, ‘if you cant stand the heat . . ‘ If you feel the need to remove my comments then can you please justify it, otherwise I will report you to the news organisation.

Hi, at the moment we’re trying to purge all old comments on the site and go over to a new form of commenting where authors have to use ‘real’ signup info. We keep getting inflamatory comments from anonymous accounts and it’s step to stop that. Our FB page is always open to all comments though.

The previous comments have eloquently outlined the many ethical issues surrounding greyhound racing, so I will just comment on your observation that they display signs of ‘happiness’ before and after racing. I suggest you study dog body language and then reassess your opinion. When the dogs are paraded before a race many will gamble their tails tucked under, when shoved into the starting crates their tails are tucked and their bodies are rigid. These are signs of fear, not happiness. Yes they often bark before the start, but this can actually be a sign of stress, not happiness. Likewise, the signs of happiness you refer to at the end of the race are due to adrenaline and excitement, but you will see the body language return to the tense, tucked up signs when recaptured by the handlers and the adrenaline wears off.

Forget it N Williams, I have had a most unproductive Twitter conversation with the author who sees nothing wrong with including greyhound racing in a sport article nor putting in the un-researched sentence that you have so clearly deconstructed with all your experience working with & rescuing greyhounds

Where are my comments, why have you removed it? Greyhound racing is unethical get your facts right before writing an article. I also sent an email to the editor yesterday after my comment was removed you could at least have the decency to reply. But then anyone who allows such a ridiculous, under researched article to be published, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that you don’t reply. Let’s see how long this comment stays for.

Hi, at the moment we’re trying to purge all old comments on the site and go over to a new form of commenting where authors have to use ‘real’ signup info. We keep getting inflamatory comments from anonymous accounts and it’s step to stop that. Our FB page is always open to all comments though.

I’m sorry but there’s a world of difference between one person playing ‘fetch’ with their dog and another person exploiting dozens of greyhounds purely for the purpose of using them as commodities in the seedy world of greyhound racing. Betting on dogs’ lives is not ethical. Forcing dogs to chase the artificial lure (they’re not racing each other, they’re chasing the lure) is unethical for several reasons. The tracks are purposefully designed to encourage the dogs to reach their maximum speed and then bunch up together at the bends. Owners/trainers know this is where they’re most likely to clash into each other or into the railings, sometimes causing serious injuries including broken legs, necks or backs. How can that be ethical?

Many greyhounds are killed for injuries that could easily be treated. At least 700 serious injuries recorded at UK tracks each year. On top of that, at least 400 deaths at UK tracks each year. These figures are based on limited data and will be even worse than reported. Many more will be killed away from the tracks and it is legal to kill greyhounds with a bolt gun, without a vet. A government report published last year found that 3,700 ‘racing’ greyhounds were ‘unaccounted for’ in 2015. Many of these will have been killed away from the tracks and so don’t show in the figures.

Whilst being used for racing the dogs are often kept in appalling conditions, as an undercover investigation by the Dogs Trust found recently. The League Against Cruel Sports is actually calling for an outright ban on commercial greyhound racing. Aside from the racing itself, many greyhounds are kept as breeding machines, again in appalling conditions. Pups who don’t make the grade are usually killed.

Commercial greyhound racing is rife with corruption. Dogs are illegally drugged to speed them up, or doped to slow them down, in order to fix races. Commercial greyhound racing is not a sport, it’s an unethical industry based on exploitation, death and greed. The industry’s governing body, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, is currently under investigation by London City Police for allegations of fraud and bribery, and it’s also under scrutiny over its shocking lack of animal welfare.

You really can’t compare the time one spends interacting with family pets to keeping greyhounds cooped up in squalid kennels for most of the day and then forcing them to run for their lives around dangerous tracks just so a bunch of people can place a bet on their heads. It would be great if you could make amends by writing an in-depth feature on the murky world of greyhound racing. I’d advise you to contact CAGED Nationwide, Greyt Exploitations, and Birmingham Greyhound Protection in the first instance.

Really? “In greyhound racing, the dogs run fast and utilise their natural skill, often appearing eager to start the event and exhibiting signs of happiness before and after the contests.” That is an ignorant & uninformed comment.
Since greyhounds spend most of the day confined to kennels, then transported to a track, put in holding kennels and eventually brought out to race for 30 seconds they may seem excited but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a cruel and deadly industry (not a sport by Sports Council definition).
It is not difficult to research racing greyhound welfare but clearly you didn’t bother.

The uninformed comment about greyhounds exhibiting signs of happiness should not even be included in an article about sport because greyhound racing is not a sport

“For an activity to be recognised as a sport in the UK – its status ‘must be agreed by each of the four home country sports councils and UK Sport’ All four councils have adopted the Council of Europe’s European Sports Charter definition of sport:
“Sport means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels”
As such none of the four councils within the UK include greyhound racing within their list recognised activities and governing bodies.”

Leave a Reply to Karen Cheesenan Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.